September on the roof has been mainly about salad, specifically tomatoes, chervil and cucumber. Finally the toms are turning red and I’m picking them daily. They’re delicious, especially when eaten with fresh herbs. Even the upside tomato has fruit now. Chervil is also abundant at the moment, sprouting up all over the place and mostly in pots where I didn’t plant it. This is something of a theme, this random growth, best illustrated by a surprise cucumber plant in one of my salad boxes. It’s currently nursing the tiniest, spikiest cucumber I’ve ever seen.
I spent ages trying to grow cucumbers from seed earlier this year, and last year in fact, but with zero success. A friend then gave me an established plant as a gift and I proceeded to kill it. Now one’s growing as if by magic, planted by I don’t know who. I’m very pleased it’s decided to join me on the rooftop at last. Even if the fruit doesn’t come to much, the star shaped yellow flowers look very pretty. Together with some late evening primrose blooms and a tiny wild strawberry flower, they’re all welcome floral shadows of summer as autumn approaches.
As I harvest the last of my runner beans, which have been rather disappointing this year in comparison to last, I’m starting to think about winter crops. Garlic again, planted properly this time – single cloves, rather than entire bulbs. Perhaps some spinach and winter sets of onions too. And apparently if you plant broad beans and sweet peas outside in autumn they’ll be super tough and successful next spring. I’ll also be planting daffodil, crocus, alium and tulip bulbs. Guerrilla Gardening has declared the 9th October International Tulip Day so maybe I’ll plant them then.
Continuing the cucumber theme, I’m currently eating my way through a giant specimen that was grown in Kennington. It’s the size of a baseball bat. I travelled home with it on the tube and got some very funny looks. It’s the work of my friend Melanie, who’s turned the space round her south London home into vegetable heaven. The kitchen garden extends from the back yard, through the house with its various windowsills, and into the car parking spot out front.
A recent meal at Mel’s was a like a mini harvest festival feast. It consisted of home grown courgette fritters with a home grown tomato and herb salsa, a home grown beetroot and carrot salad, plus various homemade pickles and preserves to dip bread into. For desert our Greek yoghurt was made special with blackberries picked from the bush outside the house and with homemade ginger and courgette jam, which was honey coloured, syrupy and super sweet. I left with a jar of homemade sage and walnut pesto as well as the monster cucumber. Amazing.
Another amazing friend came over at the weekend with a heavy bag of apples picked from the tree at the bottom of his garden. Sadly not the owner of any fruit trees, I do happen to own a juicer and we proceeded to transform the last of his apples into some golden juice. We had to sieve it twice and then let the thick, sawdusty sediment sink to the bottom, but the time and effort was well worth it. The juice was divine and it was grown, pressed and bottled in Islington, making it the most local of beverages.
Other foody excitement this month came during a visit to the allotment at Kensington Gardens, where most of the crops are being nurtured within metre square raised beds. And then to Mile End Park where women from the Ocean Somali Centre have been growing vegetables in a patch of land given to them by the council. It’s incredible what can grow in the smallest and most public of places, whether it’s a Royal Park or a local one that borders a really busy road and is framed by steely views of Canary Wharf. The Mile End women impressed me most with their handsome home grown aubergines.
Another September adventure to share, which has nothing to do with food but lots to do with London, was going back onto the top of the enormous Tower 42 building near Liverpool Street, this time at dawn. It was the very beginning of the month and conditions were perfect. 600 feet up and out on the roof, the Tower 42 Bird Study Group and I witnessed the sun rise into clear blue skies, over a London that had been made miniature by our height and was all hung about with early morning mist. I’ve never seen my home city looking as lovely as she did that day.
The rest of my September will be spent in Berlin. I’m off to the glorious Prinzessinnengarten in Kreuzberg, doing urban farming workshops for a week with people from capital cities across Europe. The garden was once a wasteland until some activists got their hands on it. Along with friends and neighbours, they cleared away the rubbish and turned it into a community vegetable plot. I can’t wait to be there and will tell all when I get back…